WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans support the U.S. government’s efforts to force Apple to help unlock an iPhone in the probe of last year’s deadly San Bernardino attacks, a poll showed Monday.
The Pew Research Center survey found 51 percent of respondents supported the effort to require Apple to help unlock the iPhone, while 38 percent said Apple should not unlock the phone to ensure the security of its other users. Eleven percent did not offer an opinion.
In the poll taken from Feb. 18-21 — shortly after news broke about the standoff — 75 percent in the survey said they were aware of the deadlock, with 39 percent saying they had heard “a lot” and 36 percent indicating they heard “a little” about it.
Support for the government’s case was highest among the older poll respondents, by a 54-27 percent margin among those 65 or older.
There was little difference between Democrat and Republican respondents, but independents were nearly split on the issue, with 42 percent siding with Apple to 45 percent for the government.
Smartphone owners were in support of the government by a 51-40 percent margin, but among iPhone owners the support was a bit lower at 47-43 percent.
The researchers surveyed 1,002 American adults by mobile or landline telephone. The margin of error for the full sample was estimated at 3.7 percentage points.
U.S. authorities are seeking to enforce an order to require Apple to provide technical assistance to unlock the iPhone of one of the attackers. Apple and its supporters argue that complying would set a precedent that would weaken security for all users.
Some victims and affected families in December’s mass shooting in California will file documents in support of a U.S. judge’s order that Apple Inc. help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone as part of the investigation, a lawyer said Monday.
Stephen Larson said he represents several families of victims and other employees affected by the San Bernardino shootings. He said the U.S. attorney in the case, Ellen Decker, sought his help. Larson said he will file a brief supporting the Justice Department before March 3.
The brief gives the Justice Department additional support in a case that has sparked a national debate over digital privacy rights and national security interests. The judge ordered Apple last week to assist investigators by creating specialized software that would let the FBI rapidly test random passcode combinations to try to unlock the iPhone and view data stored on it.
The iPhone 5C was used by Syed Farook, who with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at an office holiday party before they died in a gun battle with police. The government said they had been at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group.
The couple physically destroyed two personal phones so completely that the FBI has been unable to recover information from them.
Larson said the government has a strong case because of Farook’s diminished privacy interests as a “dead, murderous terrorist” and because the phone was owned by his employer, the county government.
According to the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans say Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the FBI investigation, while 38 percent say Apple should not to ensure the security of other users’ information. Eleven percent gave no opinion. The survey was conducted from Feb. 18 through Feb. 21 among 1,002 adults.
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook acknowledged in a letter to employees earlier Monday that “it does not feel right” to refuse to help the FBI, but he said to do so would threaten data security for millions by creating essentially a master key that could later be duplicated and used against other phones.
“We have no tolerance or sympathy for terrorists,” Cook wrote in an email. “When they commit unspeakable acts like the tragic attacks in San Bernardino, we work to help the authorities pursue justice for the victims.”
Cook’s email came hours after FBI director James Comey said in an online post that Apple owes it to the victims to cooperate and the FBI “can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”
Apple’s supporters plan to protest targeting the FBI on Tuesday outside Apple’s stories in about 50 cities in the U.S., Britain, Germany and Hong Kong.